Mindfully Working with an Angry Brain–Lindsay Leimbach
Do I have an angry brain? At times I sure do, I have a brain that will blow up like a volcano if it was not trapped in my skull. I do not have an angry brain all the time, just some of the time. It can happen when my teenage boys forget to do the chores, even though I left a note on the kitchen table. Or when someone tells me upsetting news and I do not have any control of the situation. You know the irritating life stuff that we all face. Anger is a normal response of the brain when a situation appears threatening. It is a primary emotion that is well established at birth. Yes, it is actually a good thing. It is our internal radar that screams “life threatening situation! Be prepared to fight, defend, and concur”. It serves all animals well in protecting their lives, their families, and their territory. However, the issue is that this emotion is triggered over chores not being completed or situations we cannot control. I do not need the flight/ fight response to be activated to conquer my teenage children or in a situation I cannot change. Actually I have found that I make things worse when trying to solve an issue from an angry brain. I evaluate income information incorrectly, I cannot truly understand another point of view, I over react, and often say something off topic that just escalates the anger. I also have found that my angry brain is contagious. It seems that when I let it leak out others catch it and it multiplies. Then I don’t just have one angry brain but an epidemic of angry brains on my hands. The epidemic creates misery for everyone. I have chosen to make sure that the epidemic of angry brains will not start with me. I know that anger is a normal emotion that I will continue to have. I am okay with this. Through mindful living I learned how to work with my angry brain instead of fighting it. I able to listen to the warning signs that my brain is telling me, and still not feeling like a need to fight and concur my family or the serves representative.
Mindful Living has made me aware that stuff happens, good stuff and bad stuff. Things are always happening. It is what life’s about, things change every moment. I realized that if I want to be an influence in my own life then I need to start living my life in the present moment. To notice what is happening in my own thinking moment by moment. I use to be frantic in my thinking. I was completely caught up in the past worry or future anxiety. I was not even aware that I was becoming angry until my volcano blew. Those around me were often as shocked I was to the amount of anger that now possessed me. I have learned through mindful awareness my feelings and thoughts that there are common cause that promote my anger: mostly when I am too tired, stressed, frustrated or overwhelmed. I have learned there are other common causes; physical or emotional trauma, chemical or biological issues with the brain, alcohol and drug abuse, and learned through families and cultures that promote anger.
I became aware that I have some well-established habits that I slide right into when I get angry. I am trained to a response just like Pavlov’s dog that starts to salivate when he hears the dinner bell. Example is when I feel my family is taking me for granted then the angry bell rings. I am not salivating, I am fuming. This negative reaction does nothing to make the situation better, and I never feel better. My fuming actually makes things way worse. I found that what you think about you bring about. As I felt angry and taken for granted, I am connecting neurons in my mind saying that I am angry person, no one cares, I am forgotten. The path ways become deeper in my thinking and reinforced. Then my brain looks for outside events that support these negative path ways. I find myself on the poor me angry loop that I cannot jump off. The good news is that I have learned the brain has neuroplasticity. In short the brain is always changing, neural networks are building and reinforced with what you think about and other neural networks are falling apart when they are not being used. I realized I can be the master builder of my own brain!
Mindfulness has taught me that I can jump off the loop of past angry behaviors and responses anytime I choose through awareness in the present moment. It sounds easy. It is easy to say, but it takes practice, practice, practice to execute. Mindful living is actually not one skill, it is more a way of being. It takes lots of skills and techniques to live mindfully. These skills help you stay in the present moment without judgement. Two Mindful Living tools that work for me when dealing with my angry brain are:
- Event Happens + Being Aware of Thinking +Skillful Response = Positive Outcome
Events happen so I am not surprised. Some of these events bring forth the emotion of anger. That is okay. I am listening to myself; I can sit with my anger. I know that feeling the angry won’t hurt me and in time I always calm down. I know that when I calm down I can clearly judge how angry I am. I often place it on a scale 1 to 10. This gives my brain some objectivity on how intensely I should react to the event. Now that I am calmer I am ready to make a skillful response. My response is what I want the world to know and hear. I might be doing a skillfully planned battle cry as a response or maybe I need skillfully to just let it go and know stuff happens. Whatever I choose, I know that I am reinforcing my outlook on the situation in my mind and in the mind of others. I will mindfully implement a skillful plan of action to achieve a positive outcome. I am ending any angry brain epidemics starting from me.
- Breathing 4x4x4:
When I am aware that anger is arising I breathe in for the count of 4, breathe out for the count of 4, and do this for 4 times. Breathing should not be a big surprise. We instinctually tell others that are upset “catch your breath, breath, breath, breath”. Breathing at a slower rate calms the body and the brain down. The brain is able to shift out of a flight/flight response and have better impulse control and planning ability. Being aware of what you’re thinking and feeling cannot happen if you feel your head is going to explode. Breathing slower and more deliberate will decrease your blood pressure and clear your tunnel vision. With a calmer state of mind you can Event Happens + Being Aware of Thinking +Skillful Response = Positive Outcome.